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Blue Swamini in January 2020 (photo by J.I. Uitto)

That 2020 was a bad year goes without saying. One of the areas of human endeavor that suffered most was arts and culture. And these are also amongst the most vital areas for us. …


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The year 2020 has been defined by the COVID-19 pandemic that has disrupted lives and livelihoods everywhere around the world. The way we work has been interrupted and altered. This is true for those working to advance and manage international environmental projects and programs — it is also true for the professionals working to evaluate for effectiveness and impact of those initiatives. At the GEF Independent Evaluation Office (IEO), the body I lead, we have had to innovate in our data collection and analysis to counter the travel and other limitations posed by the situation. The fact that the coronavirus…


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Timber transport in the Amazon Tapajos River (photo by author, January 2018)

Over the past eight months, the novel coronavirus pandemic has infected some 20 million people and killed more than 700,000, sparing virtually no country. The economic and social consequences have been devastating. The virus SARS-CoV-2 that caused COVID-19 crossed over from its non-human host, probably a bat, directly or more likely through an intermediate host like a pangolin, to a human in or around the city of Wuhan in China in late 2019. The exact transmission mechanism is still not known but the root causes are clear. The spill-over of zoonotic viruses like SARS-CoV-2 is becoming more common as we…


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Humans and nature clash under changing climate

Again this week, Japan’s southwestern island of Kyushu has been devastated by floods and mudslides caused by extreme rainfall. On July 6, 2020, the Japan Meteorological Agency, JMA, issued a level 5 — its highest — heavy rain warning in Fukuoka, Nagasaki and Saga prefectures. Evacuation advisories have been issued targeting more than 1.4 million people. By July 9th, at least 62 people in Kyushu have died and another dozen or so are missing as a result of the weather disaster. …


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Pre-pandemic commute in Tokyo (photo by author)

How the Japanese deal with the pandemic is illustrative of what’s wrong in America.

The US just set a new record: more than 40,000 new cases of COVID-19 infections in one day. This is the end of June 2020 when many states have been reopening their economies and people around the country have breathed a big sigh of relief: The pandemic is over and we survived it! Except that it is not over and many did not survive. So far there have been more than 125,000 deaths confirmed to have been caused by the virus in the US. …


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Washington, DC, metro at rush hour pre-pandemic (photo by author)

The US Centers for Disease Control, CDC, has issued interim guidance for businesses and employers as employees start returning to work while the COVID-19 crisis is still ongoing. Some of these guidelines are outright environmentally detrimental, which is both ironic and shortsighted given that it is clearly established that the pandemic is a direct result of environmental abuse and degradation. It is a clear indication of the challenges we face if a high-level scientific body like CDC is unable to think more holistically and only focuses narrowly on its immediate mandate.

Most of the measures recommended by CDC are necessary…


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North Beach, MD (photo by author)

We’re in for a wild ride this summer if the early indications are to be believed. The COVID-19 pandemic is not showing any signs of waning, irrespective of how tired people are getting to shelter in place and despite wishful thinking by politicians. Unlike in Asia and Europe where the numbers of infections are actually going down rapidly, the US pandemic is still growing. Just in one day, May 21st, there were more than 24,000 new cases reported in the United States. Only the geographical patterns are shifting.

On top of the pandemic we are seeing other threats creeping up…


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The COVID-19 pandemic has brought home the fact that humans do not exist outside of the Earth’s ecological system. The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus is zoonotic, meaning it has originated in animals and crossed over to humans. The causes of the increasing occurrence in zoonotic pandemics lie in the higher frequency of encounters between humans and animals (both wild and domesticated). This is exacerbated by how we exploit and abuse the natural environment, and how human influence has become ever more pervasive in the Anthropocene.

The pandemic has revealed significant vulnerabilities even in the North, with severe economic consequences likely leading to…


In her 2020 Earth Day blog the GEF CEO Naoko Ishii emphasized that the COVID-19 crisis is fundamentally an environmental crisis. I couldn’t agree more. Sure, at the face of it, this is first a health crisis, a pandemic with tragic consequences to people who get infected, especially those who perish or who see loved ones perish. Economies of families, communities, companies, states and countries are stressed, even destroyed. It’ll take months and years to recover from these effects. However short-sighted it may be, I can understand why people and businesses-and by extension politicians-clamor to get the economy re-opened as…

Juha Uitto

Geographer, evaluator, environmentalist. Based in Washington, DC, I work internationally, with the Global Environment Facility.

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